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Pentagon announces implementation of spousal benefits for gay troops

Hagel memo delivers benefits in wake of court decision against DOMA

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Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade
Chuck Hagel, Department of Defense, Pentagon, gay news, Washington Blade

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made final the implementation of troop benefits in a recent memo (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas).

The Pentagon announced on Wednesday the implementation of spousal benefits for gay service members following the U.S. Supreme Court decision against the Defense of Marriage Act — and plans to make these benefits available as soon as Sept. 3.

In a memo dated August 13, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced service members in same-sex marriages will receive the same benefits for their spouses delegated to U.S. troops in opposite-sex marriages, and designated Sept. 3 as the a target date for implementation. These benefits includes health and pension benefits that were previously unavailable under DOMA as well as housing benefits, which the Pentagon had previously withheld.

“It is now the department’s policy to treat all married military personnel equally,” Hagel writes. “The department will construe the words ‘spouse’ and ‘marriage’ to include same-sex spouses and marriages, and the Department will work to make the same benefits available to all military spouses, regardless of whether they’re in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage.”

The memo follows up on Hagel’s announcement at the end of June immediately following the Supreme Court decision against DOMA that the Pentagon would work to implement these benefits. Additionally, the memo culminates the effort announced in February to implement to provide benefits to gay troops that were available even under that law, such as military IDs and access to family services.

The document is along the lines of what the Associated Press reported last week that the Pentagon was preparing to make final for the implementation of benefits for gay troops.

As such, the memo retracts a previous pledge to allow troops in domestic partnerships to have certain benefits. Instead, it offers gay troops stationed in places without marriage equality leave to travel to another state to marry. The memo says the Pentagon will recognize same-sex marriages of service members even in states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.

“This will provide accelerated access to the full range of benefits offered to married military couples throughout the Department and help level the playing field between opposite-sex and same-sex couples seeking to be married,” Hagel writes.

In a supplemental memo dated Aug. 13 also made public on Wednesday, Acting Under Secretary of Defense of Personnel & Readiness Jessica Wright lays out additional details for the rules governing gay troops seeking spousal benefits, citing the need for technical changes in current policy.

“Extension of benefits to same-sex spouses will require some policy revisions, and in the case of identification cards, technical upgrades as the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System currently does not authorize the issuance of an identification card to a spouse of the same gender,” Wright writes.

The Washington Blade reported last week that gay service members were unable to enroll for benefits through DEERS because it’s set up in a way that only facilitates opposite-sex marriages.

Wright also details the leave process for service members in same-sex relationships who are seeking to marry, saying non-chargeable leave will be granted for troops who are more than 100 miles away from a U.S. jurisdiction where same-sex marriage is legal.

According to the memo, if the service member is the stationed within the continental United States, the Pentagon will grant non-chargeable leave for a period of up to seven days. For a service members stationed outside the continental United States, the Pentagon will grant a leave period of up to 10 days.

“Extensions of this non-chargeable leave period for the convenience of the service member(s) will be charged to the member’s leave account,” Wright concludes. “Marriage leave may be granted only once during the career of a service member.”

Wright says troops will be entitled to these benefits retroactively to the date of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA on June 26, but claims to entitlement before that time “will not be granted.”

Praise for the implementation of these benefits came from Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.,) a U.S. House member who has been vocal about providing them to gay service members.

“I am especially pleased that military personnel  based  in those states where same-sex marriage remains illegal will be offered leave to travel to a jurisdiction that permits same-sex marriage, and I look forward to the day when such travel is no longer necessary,” Schiff said. “Our military men and women sacrifice every day to defend freedom and equality around the world. The least we can do is make sure they enjoy that equality here at home.”

Expectations that the Pentagon would announce on Wednesday it the implementation of these benefits for troops with same-sex partners was first reported Tuesday evening by NBC News.

Stephen Peters, president of the LGBT military group known as the American Military Partners Association, responded to the NBC News report by praising the move as “a huge step forward.”

“The extension of equal benefits for all legally married spouses, regardless of sexual orientation, is a huge step forward for our families who for far too long have been excluded and cut off from support,” Peters said. “While this is a huge step forward in making sure our same-sex military spouses have equal access, we still have a long battle ahead of us in making sure all of our LGBT military families have equal protection in all 50 states.”

Not explicitly addressed in the memo is whether gay veterans would also have the same access to spousal benefits as their straight counterparts. Title 38 under U.S. code, which governs veterans benefits, defines spouse in opposite-sex terms independently of DOMA and related statutes look to the state of residence as opposed to the state of celebration to determine whether a couple is married. To extent to which gay U.S. troops will be eligible for veteran spousal benefits in the aftermath of DOMA is still unclear.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Michael Bedwell

    August 14, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    What happened to “leave no one behind”? The DOD claims it “remains committed to ensuring that all men and women who serve in the U.S. military, and their families, are treated fairly and equally as the law directs” yet they’re ARBITRARILY breaking their February PROMISE of “fairness and equal treatment” to those SSDPs that are no more financially able now to travel to a marriage jurisdiction than they were in February. I AM genuinely happy for those who are already or can easily get married, but let’s not let the balloons and confetti drop blind us to the reality of the situation for many others. How are they suddenly any less your brothers and sisters in arms? How are their years of sacrifice in uniform and that of their devoted partners suddenly irrelevant? Non-chargeable leave does NOT create an “equal playing field” for anyone stationed in the majority of the world where same sex marriage remains verboten. Thank you.

  2. Grace Alexander

    August 14, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    And it looks like veterans are left out in the cold as usual.

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World

Dutch government formally apologies for forced sterilization of trans, intersex people

Gender Change Act was in place from 1985 to 2014

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Dutch government on Saturday formally apologized to transgender and intersex people who were forced to become sterile in order to legally change their gender.

The Gender Change Act, which was also known as the Transgender Act, was in effect in the Netherlands from 1985 until its repeal in 2014.

Education, Culture and Science Minister Ingrid van Engelshoven and Law Minister Sander Dekker last year on behalf of the Dutch government apologized to trans and intersex people who had undergone forcible sterilizations. The Dutch government also agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,633.68) to around 2,000 trans people who had sterilization surgeries.

A ceremony did not take place because of the pandemic.

Van Engelshoven issued Saturday’s the formal apology during a meeting with trans and intersex people that took place at the Ridderzaal, a 12th century building in The Hague that the Dutch government uses for speeches from the country’s royal family and other important ceremonial events.

“For decades we have had a law that has harmed transgender and intersex people,” said van Engelshoven. “People have undergone medical treatment that they did not want, or have been forced to postpone becoming themselves. Today, on behalf of the entire Cabinet, I make our deepest apologies. Recognition of and apologies for what has been done to these people and which has caused a lot of grief for those involved is extremely important and is central to this special day in the Ridderzaal.”

Transgender Netwerk Nederland in a press release said the Netherlands is the first country in the world to issue such an apology. The advocacy group notes the Dutch government last month began to compensate trans and intersex people who were forcibly sterilized, but adds the amount of money they will receive remains too low.

“The government has structurally disadvantaged and damaged transgender and intersex people for almost 30 years,” said Willemijn van Kempen, who spearheaded the campaign for the formal apology. “It is important that it now apologizes for that.”

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World

Botswana Court of Appeals upholds decriminalization ruling

‘Today is a momentous day in history’

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(Public domain photo)

The Botswana Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a 2019 ruling that decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in the country.

Five justices unanimously ruled sections of the Batswana Penal Code that criminalize homosexuality with up to seven years in prison “violated the right to privacy … the right to liberty, security of person and equal protection under the law … and the right to freedom from discrimination” under the country’s constitution.

Botswana’s High Court in 2019 unanimously ruled these provisions were unconstitutional.

The Batswana government appealed the landmark decision. The High Court heard the case last month.

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, which challenged the criminalization law with the support of the Southern Africa Litigation Center, applauded Monday’s ruling.

“Today is a momentous day in history, a victorious win in ascertaining liberty, privacy and dignity of the LGBTIQ persons in Botswana and definitely, this judgement sets precedence for the world at large,” says LEGABIBO CEO Thato Moruti. “Moreover, a new dawn for better education and awareness about the LGBTIQ issues. I anticipate that more engagement with various arms of government will also set a trajectory towards a more inclusive and diverse nation.”

Pan Africa ILGA in a tweet proclaimed Monday as a “beautiful day” in Botswana. UNAIDS described the ruling as “a great win for human rights.”

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Virginia

Va. businessman apologizes for burning of rainbow flag poster

‘Shocked and horrified’: Ashburn incident caught on video

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Organizers of an event where a Pride symbol was burned say the incident was a misunderstanding.

The owner of a Virginia technology company that hosted a private Veterans Day party on the grounds of an Ashburn, Va., brewery in which a company employee used a flame-throwing device to ignite a rainbow flag poster said the selection of the poster was a mistake and he and his company have no ill will toward the LGBTQ community.

The Washington Blade learned about the poster burning from a customer of the Old Ox Brewery in Ashburn, where the incident took place on its outdoor grounds. The customer made a video of the incident with his cell phone and sent a copy of the video to the Blade.

The video, which includes an audio recording, shows a man using a hand-held flame-throwing device to ignite the rainbow poster, which was hanging from a cable and appeared to be mounted on cardboard or a thin sheet of wood. Bystanders can be heard laughing and cheering as the poster is set on fire.

The poster consisted of a variation of the LGBTQ Pride rainbow flag that included the word “love” configured from an upper white stripe on the rainbow symbol.

The customer who took the video, who has asked not to be identified, thought the decision to set the poster on fire was a sign of disrespect if not hatred toward a longstanding symbol of LGBTQ equality and pride.

Chris Burns, Old Ox Brewery’s president, shared that view, telling the Blade he and his staff were “shocked and horrified” when they learned later that a rainbow flag poster had been burned on the brewery’s grounds. Burns said Old Ox supports the LGBTQ community and participated in LGBTQ Pride month earlier this year.

He said the company that held the private party paid a fee to hold the event on the brewery’s grounds, but the brewery did not know a rainbow poster would be burned.

“I’m mortified that our event was interpreted in this way,” said Nate Reynolds, the founder and partner of Hypershift Technologies LLC, the Falls Church, Va.-based technology company that organized the Nov. 11 party at Old Ox Brewery. “I can assure you that ZERO ill-will or offense was meant,” Reynolds told the Blade in a Nov. 24 email.

“We held a small private party for a few clients, which included a demonstration of Elon Musk’s Boring Company ‘Not a Flamethrower,’” he said in his message. He was referring to one of billionaire businessman Elon Musk’s companies that specializes in boring through the ground to create tunnels for cars, trains, and other purposes. 

“After so many being isolated during COVID, we wanted to have an event that was lighthearted and to some small effect, silly,” Reynolds said in his message to the Blade.

According to Reynolds, in thinking about what should be used for “fodder” for the flame-thrower, he went to a Five Below discount store and purchased items such as stuffed animals and posters, including a “Space Jam” movie poster as well as what he thought was a poster of the British rock group The Beatles.

“When I pulled the Beatles poster out of the tube it was instead the ‘Love’ poster,” he said, referring to the rainbow flag poster the Blade asked him about in an earlier email.

“All I focused on was the ‘Love’ wording and not the rainbow and did not draw the conclusion that the poster was an icon that represents the LGBTQ community,” Reynolds said. “It was my own ignorance of not connecting the symbolism of the poster. If I had realized it was a symbol of the LGBTQ community, I would not have used it,” he said.

“I feel terrible, and I want to emphasize that I am solely responsible for this mistake – not the Old Ox Brewery,” he wrote in his message. “Nobody at Old Ox had anything to do with this activity.”

Reynolds added, “Hate has no place in my heart, and I sincerely apologize for any offense that could have been drawn from what I now realize was poor judgement on my part. I simply didn’t correlate this poster with the LGBTQ pride symbol.”  

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Before Reynolds issued his statement of apology, Burns, the Old Ox Brewery co-owner, told the Blade in an email he was “saddened and upset” over the rainbow poster burning on the grounds of his brewery.

“We do not wish to benefit from this event,” he said in his email message. “Therefore, Old Ox is donating 100% of the revenue generated from the private event to GLSEN.”

GLSEN is a national LGBTQ advocacy group that focuses on education and support for LGBTQ youth. Burns said Old Ox Brewery also donated proceeds from a Pride month event it organized earlier this year to GLSEN.

LGBTQ activists and organizations contacted by the Blade said they were unfamiliar with the variation of the rainbow flag with the word “love” that was the subject of the poster burning incident. The poster is available for sale at Five Below stores in the D.C. metropolitan area for $5.

Small print writings on the poster show it is produced by Trends International LLC, which describes itself on its website as “the leading publisher and manufacturer of licensed posters, calendars, stickers and social stationery products.” The Blade couldn’t immediately determine who designed the poster.

 The video of the poster burning incident can be viewed here:

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